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Some head towards a cashless world, others are stuck at the register

Jun. 6, 2018
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As I ordered my lunch today at Tender Greens, a salad chain in California, I noticed a new sign at the cash register. 

“We’re cashless. We accept mobile pay and all major credit and debit cards,” it read, “Download our iOS and Android appit’s fast, easy, and you get a free drink when you sign up!” 

I have no attachment to paper money. In fact, I almost never have bills or change in my wallet. Often I feel deeply inconvenienced when restaurants are cash-only. Yet, banning cash as a form of payment altogether?

The thing is, not everyone has a cell phone with Apple Pay or a credit card. For example, my aunt is a disabled adult. She lives on her own and has a job, but she can’t drive or use computers. She walks everywhere she goes, pays for every transaction in cash, and she doesn’t use a cell phone. My aunt is one of 500,000 individuals in the United States who has cerebral palsy, a condition that limits muscle function due to damage in the brain before or during birth. 

How are people like my aunt supposed to pay for their lunch at cashless restaurants like Tender Greens? Would she be turned away because she doesn’t have a credit card or a cell phone? The only form of money she can use is cash. Is it discriminatory if restaurants refuse to allow her to pay in cash, completely legal tender? Should she and disabled people like her, as potential paying customers, be alienated by an entire restaurant chain on the basis of whether or not she has a debit or credit card? 

As more and more restaurants become cashless, few seem to care about the answers to these questions. 

When pressed, the employee working the cash register at Tender Greens calmly explained that most people do have a credit card “by now.” Upon hearing the explanation that my aunt who has a disability did not have access to a debit or credit card, the cashier simply stammered, eventually saying that the meal would probably be “on the house” if she happened to only have cash as payment one time. 

This leaves a lot of my previous questions unanswered and leads to many more: what about the elderly who feel more comfortable paying with cash? What about younger tweens and teens who don’t have their own bank account and are eating out on their own with their friends? What about poor people, those who only have a few extra dollars in cash to spend? 

Does this concept of “cashless restaurants” actually serve as a gatekeeper for dining establishments, filtering out those whom the restaurant wants to serve from those whom it does not? 

“Though cashless restaurants are on the rise, some argue that going cashless is more than just an inconvenience,” writes Eater, “A host of factors—including lack of a permanent address, banks’ minimum balance requirements, and lack of identification—prevent a sizable swath of the population from being able to obtain a credit or debit card. Going cashless, then, boxes people out and reinforces the stratification of society, between the young and old, rich and poor, and the legal and undocumented customers in all the diverse corners of the United States.” 

What the Eater article fails to mention is the negative effect cashless restaurants also has on the disabled. 

Perhaps restaurants believe that the business of those who are affected negatively are not necessary customers for the company to profit overall. After all, the main reason that restaurants have started going cashless is because it has shown to be statistically beneficial for wait times and employee productivity, according to Eater. Tender Greens also cites this as a reason for making the switch on their website. 

“Over the years, we've noticed the percentage of our cash transactions drop significantlyinto the single digits. It seems that people are moving away from cash and technology is making it easier than ever to tap and go. We crunched the data, did some time motion studies, and tested our theories at a new restaurant. We learned that a significant amount of time (both guests and our team) was spent on handling cash and managing that cash. At the restaurant we tested cashless, we noticed that guests were getting through the line faster and our teams were getting back hours of time to do more interesting and meaningful things.” 

Unfortunately those “more interesting and meaningful things” will not include serving those who do not have the means to be a cashless customer.